Help fund a hackerspace for biology


At FOO Camp, I had the pleasure of meeting Eri Gentry, a very smart, passionate, and charismatic bio-hacking enthusiast who is working with friends to build BioCurious, a non-profit community hackerspace for open source biotech in Mountain View, Califoirnia. (BB's Dean Putney snapped the below photo of Eri at FOO Camp with her group's DIY PCR machine.) The BioCurious folks have launched a Kickstarter project to really bring their work out of the garage and, well, into a much bigger garage. I think efforts like BioCurious are essential to the future of biotech. In fact, I think efforts like BioCurious are the future of biotech. BioCurious is all about:
 4142 4735542743 B1375Cd605-1 1) Education, Outreach, Community building events.
Science was once a cultural activity, carried out by wealthy “gentlemen scholars” who had the leisure and material resources to experiment. The 20th century saw an unprecedented centralization of science around an industrial model. The plummeting costs of enabling technologies has brought meaningful biological research back within reach of the independent citizen scientist. From Bio-Art to BioFuels, the wave of next generation biotech applications is set to transform our culture and economy. BioCurious will be Ground 0 for this revolution.

2) Entrepreneurship Incubation, Mentoring, Angel Investment.
The Bay Area is home to many networks that help entrepreneurs launch web businesses with a shoe-string budget and a dream. Similar support infrastructure does not yet exist for biotech ventures. Until recently, biotech has required large start up costs. An ecosystem of mentorship and a network of investors who understand the possibilities for lean-biotech-start ups to leverage shared resources and amplify their creative efforts to have disproportionate commercial impact, does not yet exist. BioCurious will catalyze the formation of this system.

Your support will help us acquire the remaining needed equipment and secure the deposit of 3 months rent for a fully outfitted labspace. Together with the matching pledges from our founding members, whose monthly dues will support operations, we'll have a sustainable non-profit community lab. Science and education grants (STEM) will provide further support as well as kits and classes (eg, core biotech courses, how to build a gel box, PCR technique, SNP testing).
Kickstarter: BioCurious biology hackerspace

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  1. w00t!

    Love to see this stuff is happening. I’m a genetics grad student who is frustrated with bureaucracy, politics and general lack of inspiration in my current lab. It makes me question my career goal to become a genetics professor.

    But to see that there are models for experimental, non-hierarchical ‘hacker’ biology out there is a sign of light!

    Hope I can become involved in something like this in Vancouver in the next few years!

  2. That’s the hackerspace where they wash their hands *before* using the toilet.

  3. This looks awesome. I have a question:

    If I wanted to get a really awesome book about bio stuff I could do at home (think the Make:Electronics book), what should I get?

  4. Actually, the first thing I’d pick up is a back-issue of Make where they covered some pretty awesome back-yard bio stuff. It’s covered in volume 7. It covers DNA extraction, agarose gel electrophoresis and PCR. If you can do those three things (safely!) then you have yourself a small-scale molecular biology lab.

  5. @3 – I believe you’re looking for Molecular Cloning: A Laboratory Manual, from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. I would also recommend the New England Biolabs catalogue, which is free, and contains more information than most textbooks.

    I don’t want to be a nay-sayer, but this stuff is expensive and difficult. Academic groups have millions to spend, and to achieve something worthwhile they still have to save wherever possible. On top of that, it often doesn’t work, and you will never, ever know why. I’ll repeat that. In molecular biology, things regularly do not work, and no matter how much you troubleshoot, you may never find out why.

    If you are a home Make enthusiast, please, please do some work experience in a molecular biology lab before going crazy on eBay and buying lots of expensive second-hand stuff. You need to have a lot of experience before knowing what you should buy, and for how much, and exactly what is possible with the available tools. If you’re really interested in achieving something, the best way remains doing a PhD full-time, developing your ideas with and learning from other people who do this all day, every day, submitting a grant and establishing a laboratory in a faculty with other people who can help you!

    I like the idea that someone will come up with a homebrew invention that will change the world, but after 10 years in the field, I have little faith that someone’s garage is the best place for it. Not until DNA sequencing, oligonucleotide synthesis, enzyme production, fluorescence can be done at home to the required standard. Remember that these are just the first steps in a massive pipeline.

  6. ‘Term I coined: Fakerspace – Corporate start-up masquerading as a “hackerspace” for purposes of increasing contributors.’

    –Jason Scott

  7. I’m skeptical.

    The cost of consumables in biotech is enormous compared with silicon tech, so biotech firms are notorious for plowing through cash. Without a constant stream of cash, this operation won’t survive. A bigger problem is that any significant biotech work (anything beyond high school lab demos and parlor tricks) requires a tremendous amount of time and focus. The research universities are full of dilettante scientists who call themselves postdocs and don’t get anything done because of endless dithering, tinkering and noodling. In a way, the idea of a collaborative work space for biotech has been done many times over at universities, and it’s a pretty lousy model for getting things done. I speak from 12 years experience in such labs.

    That being said, I see three kinds of people who might benefit from such a workspace. One type is the enthusiastic amateur who wants to acquire some basic lab skills without doing internship in an academic research lab. Another is the engineer or artist looking to interact with biology/chemistry types to vet ideas. Finally, there’s the true genius freak pursuing a solitary vision of beautiful but insane science… this guy is usually a quiet microbiologist who has trouble articulating his/her ideas and thus can’t get conventional funding.

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